Posts from March, 2009

New Pentagon Report on Chinese Military Forces

The 2009 Pentagon report shows hardly any changes of Chinese nuclear forces.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The new annual report on Chinese military forces published by the Pentagon shows essentially no changes in China’s nuclear forces compared with the previous report from 2008.

Perhaps most interestingly, the report shows that China has not increased the number of new DF-31 and DF-31A ballistic missiles, a deployment that has to pick up if the recent Defense Intelligence Agency projection that China’s “number of ICBM warheads capable of reaching the United States could more than double in the next 15 years” is to come true.

Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons

New low-yield nuclear warheads for cruise missiles on Russia’s submarines?.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Two recent news reports have drawn the attention to Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons. Earlier this week, RIA Novosti quoted Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, deputy head of the Russian Navy General Staff, saying that the role of tactical nuclear weapons on submarines “will play a key role in the future,” that their range and precision are gradually increasing, and that Russia “can install low-yield warheads on existing cruise missiles” with high-yield warheads.

This morning an editorial in the New York Times advocated withdrawing the “200 to 300” U.S. tactical nuclear bombs deployed in Europe “to make it much easier to challenge Russia to reduce its stockpile of at least 3,000 short-range weapons.”

Both reports compel – each in their own way – the Obama administration to address the issue of tactical nuclear weapons. Continue Reading →

France’s Nuclear Victims (and Correct Number of Weapons)

From Tanguy et Laverdure, Menace sur Mururoa, 1996.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The news media reports that the French government has decided to “pay compensation to those suffering illnesses linked to radiation” from the French nuclear tests conducted in Northern Africa and the South Pacific between 1960 and 1996. This being the same state that for decades denied any health effects from the tests.

Many of the news reports quote FAS estimating the French nuclear arsenal at 348 warheads in 2008. For the record, our latest estimate made in July 2008 is about 300 warheads.

Additional Resources: French Nuclear Forces 2008 (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 2008) | Status of World Nuclear Forces (FAS web site)

Researchers Worldwide Rally to Help Scientist Exposed to Ebola

SciecneInsider has the details surrounding an Ebola researcher who pricked her finger with a needle during an experiment last week. Virologists around the world are collaborating to try to save their colleagues life. An exposure to Ebola from a needle stick does not often lead to infection with the deadly illness, but a group of scientists immediately got together to discuss a long list of experimental vaccines and treatments that could possibly prevent infection or slow progression of the disease. As a result, the exposed researcher was given a vaccine that has previously been shown to provide protection in monkeys who had been exposed to Ebola. The incubation period of Ebola is typically between 4 and 21 days, and it has only been 6 days since the needle stick incident. Thus far there is no indication that the researcher has contracted an Ebola infection, but virologists are anxiously following her case.

U.S. Strategic Submarine Patrols Continue at Near Cold War Tempo

U.S. ballistic missile submarines conducted 31 nuclear deterrent patrols in 2008 at an operational tempo comparable to that of the Cold War.

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By Hans M. Kristensen [updated]

The U.S. fleet of 14 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines conducted 31 nuclear deterrent patrols in 2008 at an operational tempo comparable to during the Cold War.

The new patrol information, which was obtained from the U.S. Navy under the Freedom of Information Act, coincides with the completion on February 11, 2009, of the 1,000th deterrent patrol by an Ohio-class submarine since 1982.

The information shows that the United States conducts more nuclear deterrent patrols each year than Russia, France, United Kingdom and China combined. Continue Reading →

Briefing on Oversight of High-Containment Laboratories

On March 12 AAAS in partnership with the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC hosted a public briefing to discuss the current oversight of high-containment laboratories. The session was held to discuss the elements of H.R. 1225, the recently introduced Select Agent Program and Biosafety Improvement Act of 2009. This bill seeks to reauthorize the Select Agent Program by amending the Public Health Service Act and the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002 and to improve oversight of high containment laboratories.
Michael Ehret from the Midwest Research Institute, a private laboratory, Michael St. Clair, from Ohio State University an academic laboratory, and Michael Pentella from the University of Iowa, a public health laboratory discussed the regulatory procedures associated with the operation of each of their facilities. Each spoke about the different agencies and number of inspections or audits that they face each year, the costs of these audits and staff training as well as additional personnel reliability programs in place at their institutions.
All three speakers expressed concern about the number of agencies, each with a unique set of regulations, responsible for oversight of their facilities and suggested that a harmonized approach to regulation was necessary. Each of the represented laboratories also had internal oversight committees to ensure a high level of safety and security.

US-Chinese Anti-Submarine Cat and Mouse Game in South China Sea

The Chinese military harassment of a U.S. submarine surveillance vessel Sunday occurred only 75 miles from China’s growing naval base near Yulin on Hainan Island.

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By Hans M. Kristensen [updated 1:50 P.M., 3/10/09]

The incident that unfolded in the South China Sea Sunday, where the U.S. Navy says five Chinese ships harassed the U.S. submarine surveillance vessel USNS Impeccable, appears to be part of a wider and dangerous cat and mouse game between U.S. and Chinese submarines and their hunters.

News media reports cite Pentagon reports of half a dozen other incidents just within the past week in which U.S. surveillance vessels were “subjected to aggressive behavior, including dozens of fly-bys by Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft.”

The latest incident allegedly occurred in international waters only 75 miles south of a budding naval base near Yulin on Hainan Island from where China has started operating new nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines. The U.S. Navy on its part is busy collecting data on the submarines and seafloor to improve its ability to detect the submarines in peacetime and more efficiently hunt them in case of war. Continue Reading →

President Obama Overturns Bush Stem Cell Ban

During a ceremony at the White House today, President Obama signed an Executive Order to overturn President Bush’s 2001 restrictions on using federal funds for research on embryonic stem cells. The Executive Order is focused on stem cell research, but it signals a desire by the Obama Administration to return scientific integrity to its policy decisions. Accompanying the Executive Order will also be a Presidential Memorandum to ensure that the government’s scientific decisions are insulated from political influence. This is a welcome change after 8 years of the Bush Administration ignoring or distorting science to further its political agenda.

Over 30 Nations can deploy biological weapons

Yesterday Interfax news agency reported that experts estimate that over 30 nations have the capability to rapidly deploy biological weapons. The remarks were made by Natalya Kaverina of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Global Economy and International Relations during a presentation for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on March 3. Kaverina suggested that the tempation to use such weapons had inreased due to global instability and economic uncertainty.